Eating and drinking are a crucial part of French social life and culture, with their own set of do’s and don’ts. Whether you’re having the neighbours over, or celebrating at a new friend’s home, we has put together this list to save expats from the dangers of dining. Here are ten tips on French dinner party etiquette.
1. Arrive 15 minutes late
While in many countries this may be considered rude, in France this is a golden rule. “It’s an unspoken agreement between the host and the guest because the host might be a little late preparing everything and the guest won’t want to embarrass the host by arriving early,” says Lepère. But be warned: this rule only applies to dinner parties and not for dinners at restaurants.
2. Bring a gift
Try not to be too personal with your gifts and avoid buying things for the house – “It’s impossible to guess someone’s taste” says Lepère. If in doubt bring wine. “If you don’t know how to choose wine go to a specialist wine shop such as ‘Nicolas’. Tell the assistant ‘C’est pour offrir’ (‘It’s a gift’) and mention what food will be served at the dinner.”
3. Warn your host about dietary requirements
“French food is not compatible with not eating meat,” warns Lepère. “In France eating together is an important bonding experience. So not eating the food someone prepares for you is like showing you’re not interested in the people you’re meeting. So make sure you tell the host that you’re a veggie well in advance to avoid embarrassment.” What if you’re a vegan? “What’s that?”.
4. Don’t overdress
“French people don’t have a party style and an office style – it’s all the same,” says Lepère. “But never overdress. The cut, fabric and colours however, are crucial so, if you’re a woman, you may want to consider checking out some classic French brands such as Comptoir de Cotonniers, Cotélac and Gérard Darel.”
5. Brush up on French current affairs
“Conversation is a huge part of a dinner, especially the news,” says Lepère. “Free papers such as Metro and 20 Minutes are an easy and quick way to get up to date. No need to delve into international politics.”
6. Stick to what you know
“When you’re hosting a dinner party avoid imitating French classics such as bœuf bourguignon. Instead, try cooking something from your own country,” suggests Lepère. “It’s stressful enough putting on a dinner party so don’t add to the stress by cooking something you have never made before.”
7. It’s all about the bread
Putting bread on the table might be just an expression in English but in France it should be taken literally. “If it’s a baguette cut it beforehand and put it in a nice basket,” advises Lepère. “Don’t be afraid to serve other kinds of bread such as ‘pain de campagne’ or bread with lardons. But always buy it from a boulangerie and never from a supermarket.”
8. Don’t bring food
“In France it’s very rude to bring food without asking. You will embarrass your host because they will have to serve what you’ve brought and it might not suit the rest of the dinner,” warns Lepère. “It’s only ok if you agree with your host beforehand.”
9. Don’t forget the apéritif
“You should always serve an apéritif before the main meal,” says Lepère. “This could include a few appetizers such as cherry tomatoes and bread with pâté or tapenade (olive paste). Drinks may include martini, pastis or fruit juice. But don’t serve too many appetizers or your guests won’t have room for dinner.”
Unlike in England, cheese should be served before dessert and after the main meal. “I’ve noticed people often feel the need to serve cheese with crackers or grapes. In France it’s just cheese,” says Lepère. She recommends a good Camembert or Brie, a Comté or a Gruyère, a goat’s cheese or a Brebis and a Roquefort.
– DC Bistro Boutique
Address: 15A Ngo Van So Str., Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi
Opening hours: 10:00 AM – 10:00 PM
– Le Jardin French Bistro
Address: 54 Quang An Sstr., Tay Ho, Ha Noi
Opening hours: 9:30 AM – 11:00 PM